IoT SIM Cards — an Introductory Guide

Ralph Heredia
May 3, 2021 12:33:05 PM

With the exponential growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), there was a need for carriers to optimize how they route internet traffic and managed devices to accommodate the huge number of IoT devices coming online. The IoT SIM card (also known as an M2M SIM) is a variation of the traditional SIM which connects mobile phones to cellular networks and stores user information. The primary difference is that an IoT SIM card is intended to support IoT devices, with their unique data consumption rates/check-in rates and network requirements, rather than mobile phones. Here’s what you need to know about IoT SIM cards and the considerations for using them.

What Are IoT SIM Cards?

An IoT SIM card is an IC (integrated circuit) chip encased in protective plastic with a processor equipped with electronically erasable, programmable read-only memory (EEPROM), read-only memory (ROM), and random access memory (RAM). The SIM stores specific information about the device allowing authentication across devices, tracking locations, managing the data network, and monitoring data usage.

A traditional SIM card stores authentication credentials that allow devices like mobile phones or tablets to connect to cellular networks. An IoT SIM card does the same thing, but for non-traditional devices that make up the Internet of Things, such as cameras, drones, cellular routers, and industrial machines. It provides a link between connected devices and the cloud. Collected data can then be aggregated and accessed through an IoT management platform.

Similarities and Differences Between Regular SIMs and IoT SIMs

While regular SIMs and IoT SIMs function in much the same way, there are some differences. Here are the key similarities and differences between SIM cards and IoT SIM cards.

1. Contract Terms

SIMs are bound to a particular carrier and whatever roaming agreements they have in place with other carriers. They’re governed by rigid contractual terms established by network operators, high roaming charges for devices in different countries, and complex inventory logistics. It’s important to ensure devices get the right SIM. 

IoT SIMs are designed to be managed at scale with flexible contract terms for billing. This provides for benefits like different billing options based on usage, the ability to modify a subscription. IoT SIMs also allow access across multiple local networks, prioritizing the best one available. It’s important to note that IoT SIM providers offer different types of coverage in their contracts — you’ll want to be sure your coverage includes the coverage you need.

2. Management from the Carrier Platform Perspective

Cell phones often have user interfaces for things like data usage, network status, and settings. IoT devices generally don’t, so network operators supply customers with these insights along with the ability to manage options for data usage and connectivity. A regular SIM used for cell phones wouldn’t have the functionality to provide management platforms with this type of information.

3. Access and Security

SIM cards assign an IP address to the device that gets modified when it establishes a data connection. The carrier platform that is used to set up the SIM determines whether the IP address that is assigned will be dynamic or static. Some industrial IoT use cases can require unique workaround solutions like using an IoT SIM card with a private static IP address so the device can be accessed remotely to do things like change configurations, analyze data and log files, and execute commands. While those are not typically recommended based on the latest IoT deployment best practices, experienced providers like Zipit can work with you to determine the best solution for your IoT rollout.

4. SIM Form Factors and Durability

Both SIM cards share nano, micro, and mini form factors. IoT SIMs can also be MFF2-embedded SIMs that are soldered onto a device. These are smaller and provide more flexibility for various use cases and device design. They are also available in a more durable construction than traditional SIMs for use in environments subject to high temperatures, chemical exposure, and moisture.

What is an eSIM?

An eSIM is an embedded SIM card. Until recently, if you wanted to connect a device to a cellular network, your only option was a plug-in SIM card on the device where data is stored that provides access to the network and other functionality. In the future, more companies will have access to new technology called an eSIM, or non-removable embedded SIM.

Device Considerations for IoT SIM Cards

eSIMS provide instant connectivity, enabling shifting between networks easily and without a physical change to the device. And they’re specifically built to accommodate IoT devices, with size constraints, various use cases that include the potential for shaking, as well as power consumption or carrier requirements. They are also smaller, providing a lot more flexibility for the devices. eSIMs are also more secure as they are embedded in the device, and they aren’t swapped out as traditional SIMs are. 

Of course, there are downsides to eSIMs. They are not removable or easily replaceable. However, eSIMs are proving to be revolutionary in IoT, and they are something to watch as they continue to evolve.

How to Choose an IoT Connectivity Partner

Choosing the right connectivity partner is essential to your success in the IoT industry. You’ll want to select a company with the technical chops and business know-how to suggest the right solutions for your business.

When it comes to SIM cards, some providers may suggest using a global IoT SIM. Though it sounds appealing on the surface, we don’t typically recommend global SIMs, and here’s why — though a single global SIM may add some early convenience, there are often deeper coverage issues and hidden costs that generally make global SIMs less desirable for businesses over the long term. Instead, we often recommend multi-carrier IoT SIMs. Our IoT connectivity platform can manage the operational complexities of this approach so you can offer your customers the best connectivity options available, without complicating your device deployments. 

How to Choose an IoT Data Plan

There’s a lot to consider when you’re choosing an IoT data plan. At a high level, pricing, flexibility, coverage, management, and support are things you’ll want to evaluate. However, you’ll need to dig deeper based on your specific needs.

IoT SIM Cards Power Connected Devices

IoT SIM cards enable IoT networks’ functionality, and they will continue to evolve as technology advances. Selecting an IoT connectivity partner who understands the technology’s nuances will help you find the best solutions for your business. 

To learn how we can help your company connect with the most effective IoT technologies, contact us

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